DEISE MUST SEIZE THE DAY

SP5WaterfordCrestBrian Flannery reports

It has been a great week. The Waterford minor hurlers’ victory over Tipperary at Wash Park was splendid and gives everyone a boost ahead of Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League Final in mind.
The minors were almost unrecognisable from the team that lost to Cork. There were but a couple of changes in personnel but the level of performance showed significant improvement. Eoghan Murray was certainly man of the match here with a fabulous performance where everything he touched turned to gold, including an audacious point from a lineball.
The overall teamwork and interplay was far superior this time round and Waterford were good value for their three point victory.
Harry Ruddle Redmond is beginning to warm to his ‘sweeper’ role and was successful in cutting out an amount of ball destined for a dangerous looking Tipperary full-forward line. Captain Billy Nolan made a crucial second half save to maintain his side’s advantage with Lismore’s Jack Prendergast and Neil Montgomery also playing key roles.
I assume Tipperary management would have watched the previous round where Waterford were outclassed on the night by Cork which makes their side-line decisions questionable.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise to Liam Cahill and his co-selectors that Waterford would play with an extra defender leaving Tipperary similarly with a free player in front of their goal.
The decision to have the talented Brian McGrath as their free player and to place him in the full-back line as opposed to the half-back line will I’m sure feature in this week’s hurling review by the Tipperary print media.
The Premier have much to ponder as they face Clare in Ennis this week with elimination for the loser. Incidentally Tipp minors had a five man management team on the line which must make decision making difficult in the heat of Championship battle. At least Tipp don’t have football to blame for this loss following a decision to force minor players to opt for either hurling or football – Tipperary lost both minor hurling and football All-Ireland Finals last year.

Waterford in the pre-match parade prior to last year's National Hurling League Final in Thurles.  								| Photos: Noel Browne

Waterford in the pre-match parade prior to last year's National Hurling League Final in Thurles. | Photos: Noel Browne

But there’s no question about this week’s ‘match of the day’ as Derek McGrath takes the reigning champions to Thurles where they will face a rejuvenated Clare in this year’s League decider.
Waterford have hardly put a foot wrong all year and look in great fettle after victories over Kilkenny, Cork, Tipperary, Wexford and last time out against Limerick on the way to a record second successive National Hurling League Final.
John Meany’s 1963 team together with the 2007 side led by Michael Walsh and last year’s winner’s captained by Kevin Moran makes for a small select club of players from Waterford with National Hurling League medals.
After a pedestrian opening half, Waterford were far the better outfit when comfortably accounting for Limerick in the semi-final.
The team at this stage has a very settled look about it. It’s hard to see much change save for the inclusion of a fit again Maurice Shanahan, with doubts persisting over the All-Star’s fitness as we went to press.
Brian O’Halloran and Tom Devine who both impressed on their introduction will also be pushing for a starting berth. Stephen Bennett impressed in a Under-21 challenge against Wexford recently and he too is another genuine goal threat at management’s disposal.
With both teams playing to a similar pattern the middle third of Semple Stadium will likely be crowded with traffic lights required to prevent multiple pile-ups, so whichever team can safely negotiate this maze will find a path to victory.
The Kilkenny defenders when isolated floundered but it is unlikely that Waterford will suffer a similar fate. The reigning champions rarely leave any defender on an island with a rigid defensive structure as much concerned with occupying space as man-marking.
Against Limerick it was Darragh Fives as the auxiliary extra defender with Tadhg de Búrca assigned marking duties on Cian Lynch.
Michael Walsh was the outlet for plenty of clearances and Stephen O’Keeffe puck-outs with Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran the beneficiaries of assists from the Stradbally man.
Walsh’s physical presence will be vital on Sunday as Clare proved they can mix it with the best in their demolition of the All-Ireland champions two weeks ago.
National titles are all too rare in both Waterford and Clare so don’t expect any shadow boxing here. Silverware will be a major early season achievement for the winners and the best possible preparation for the championship repeat fixture in five weeks’ time.
Successive League titles after relegation just two years ago would be quite a highlight on any CV. History markers are remembered for ever. History is within touching distance. Carpe Diem.

The Deise’s Path to the NHL Final

Division 1A

Waterford 0-14 Kilkenny 0-10
Cork 1-14 Waterford 0-20
Tipperary 1-17 Waterford 1-18
Waterford 0-14 Dublin 0-19
Waterford 0-24 Galway 1-21

Quarter-Final: Wexford 1-13 Waterford 0-17
Semi-Final: Waterford 3-23 Limerick 1-18

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